It's hardly surprising that most Ultrabooks tend to have 12-inch or 13-inch screens since, of course, that helps to keep their size and weight as low as possible. For some reason, though, HP seems to have a fondness for larger Ultrabook designs with 14-inch screens, such as its new EliteBook 840 G1. (See also: Group test: what's the best high-end laptop?)
Fortunately, this business-oriented laptop is still highly portable. It weighs in at 1.58Kg and measures 21mm thick, which makes it one of the lightest and most compact 14-inch models that we've seen recently. I had no trouble carrying it in a backpack down to my local wifi coffee shop, and it was nice to be able to browse the web on a high-quality 14-inch screen for a change. (Take a look at the Chillblast Messiah 17 GTX780M too.)
The EliteBook is also very sturdy, despite its lightweight design. According to HP it complies with US Department of Defence standard MIL-STD 810G, which includes a number of tests for temperature and shock resistance. The screen is protected by a layer of tough Gorilla Glass, while the keyboard is designed to be spill-resistant and to drain liquids away quickly. If you work on a building site then you might want an armour-plated laptop such as the Panasonic ToughPad, but the EliteBook will be more than sturdy enough for most business travellers. (See all high-end laptop reviews.)
If you've specifically chosen a laptop with a 14-inch screen then the quality of that screen will be crucial, and the EliteBook doesn't disappoint here. The 1920x1080 resolution display produces a bright, sharp image with excellent all-round viewing angles. The display also has a welcome matte finish that reduces glare and reflections, so the EliteBook will be well suited to business presentations or graphical applications such as photo- or video-editing.
Our review unit was running Windows 7 Professional, and the screen wasn't touch-sensitive, but you can opt for Windows 8 Pro if you prefer. HP has also indicated that there will be a touch-screen model available in the coming months as well.
The keyboard may repel liquids, but it's comfortable for the hands and includes a pointer-stick along with the four-button trackpad. The stereo speakers sound a little tinny, but they're perfectly adequate for presentations or for relaxing with some streaming video when you're off-duty.
It's also better connected than many Ultrabooks, with Gigabit Ethernet available for wired office networks, four USB 3.0 ports, and both VGA and DisplayPort interfaces for connecting it to a larger display. There's no built-in optical drive, but HP does sell an external USB optical drive for £56.00, along with dock replicators and other accessories.
There are a number of additional security features for business users, too. As well as the discrete little fingerprint sensor on the right-hand corner of the keyboard, HP's Security Setup program also allows you to encrypt the contents of the hard drive, restrict the ability to copy files onto removable USB drives, and to permanently 'shred' and delete files so that they can't be retrieved.
Performance is something of a mixed bag, though. The EliteBook 840 G1 is currently available in just one configuration, priced at £1344.00 (inc.VAT) for a model with a dual-core Haswell i7-4600U running at 2.1GHz (3.3GHz Turbo) along with 8GB of memory, 500GB hard drive, and both integrated HD 4400 and discrete AMD Radeon HD 8750M for graphics.
That's not a bad specification for the price, but the use of a conventional hard drive – even the 7200rpm model used here – does affect the EliteBook's overall performance. It only managed a relatively modest score of 3100 when running the general-purpose PCMark 7 test suite, and also takes a rather leisurely 45 seconds to boot into the Windows 7 desktop – which seems like an eternity when you're used to an Ultrabook with a snappy SSD drive. HP informed us that it does plan to offer an SSD option soon, but no dates or prices were available at the time of writing this review.
And, to be fair, once the EliteBook has got itself going it feels perfectly smooth and responsive. The combination of the i7 processor and Radeon graphics also means it's more than capable of handling demanding applications such as video-editing and PowerPoint video presentations. It can even manage a spot of after-hours gaming as well, managing a comfortable 38fps when running Stalker at full 1920x1080 resolution.
Battery life is good, too, as switching to the Haswell processor's integrated graphics allowed the EliteBook to last for almost six and a half hours (385 minutes) of streaming video on the BBC iPlayer. More casual web browsing or running apps such as Microsoft Office should allow you to get a full day's work out of the EliteBook without too much trouble at all. The base of the unit can also be removed simply by pressing a couple of buttons, so it's easy to gain access to the battery and other components for repairs and upgrades.